Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

But the regimental system was abandoned, and an entirely new principle of organization was applied. Companies were raised, and these companies were grouped into great depots, called divisions, at Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham. At these divisions this force could be increased and reduced at pleasure, without disturbing the basis of organization, and from them could be supplied as many or as few sea-soldiers as fleets or ships needed, while preserving in the varying units so provided all the essentials of uniformity of system, drill, training, ties of comradeship and esprit de corps. This force then and for ninety eight years afterwards was the only continuously trained, disciplined and organized fighting force placed by the country at the disposal of naval officers. On the establishment of this new marine force the purchase of commissions was abolished, but interchange with the army was for a time permitted. When embarked, marines were under the naval code of discipline; when onshore, under the marine Mutiny Act, identical with that of the army. When the seamen of the fleet mutinied at the Nore, at the close of the 18th century, and turned their officers out of the ships, the marines, undaunted, stood firm by theirs.

Mutiny lurked beneath the deck of many a ship before and long years after that event. The control of admirals and captains over their own men was precarious in the extreme. This was the natural result of the country's neglect of its seamen. The discipline of the fleet in those days rested on the firm bayonets of the marines. What England owes to them may be gathered from Lord St Vincent's recorded testimony: “There never was an appeal made to them for honour, courage or loyalty, that they did not more than realize my highest expectation. If ever real danger should come to England, the marines will be found the country's sheet-anchor.” At his earnest solicitation the marines were made a royal corps in 1802. It is worthy of note that in those days of masts, yards, sails and pure seamanship, this greatest of naval statesmen, this matchless naval strategist, whose practical experience of maritime war was unrivalled, strenuously advocated as the true policy for England what in these days of steam and mastless ships would be scouted and ridiculed. It was to make service afloat as marines a part of the duty of every regiment of the line in rotation.

Down to 1804 the marines were an infantry force; the improvement in artillery towards the close of the century had necessitated the occasional putting into the fleet of detachments of Royal Artillery. This, as regards gunnery duties in the fleet, was repeating on a smaller scale the expedient adopted in the time of Charles II. So much friction arose between the naval and the artillery officers that a special corps of Royal Marine Artillery was raised in 1804, on the recommendation of Nelson. This special corps fulfilled the expectations of its founders. It was charged with the care, equipment and working of the larger ordnance afloat and field-guns ashore and was employed also as a body of gunnery instructors to the fleet. In 1831, a certain number of naval officers being thought to be sufficiently trained in gunnery, this corps, of which Napier wrote, “Never in my life have I seen soldiers like the Royal Marine Artillery,” was, without warning, abolished. Then the marine force ceased to be composed of two corps, artillery and infantry, and it reverted to a single one of infantry. Very soon afterwards, however, the Admiralty began to build up what they had so suddenly and ruthlessly destroyed, by ordering the conversion of one company of each infantry marine division into artillery. The number of these artillery companies gradually increased, and were grouped in a separate depot. lust as the wars from Charles II. to George III. had demanded marines, so the Crimean War led to their increase. Thus in 1859 the artillery companies of marines were formed into a separate division, and in 1862 the old name of Royal Marine Artillery was restored.

The marines thus became once more and still remain two corps, the official designation of the whole being Royal Marine Forces. In 1855 the marine infantry corps became light infantry, and in 1869 the Woolwich division (added in 1805) was abolished; and more recently a marine depot, as a feeder of the other divisions, was established at Walmer. The headquarters of the R.M.A. are at Eastney, Southsea. The divisions R.M.L.I. are at Gosport, Chatham and Devonport. The uniform of the R.M.A. is blue with red facings, that of R.M.L.I. red with blue facings. The badge of both corps is the globe surrounded with the laurel Wreath, with the motto “Per mare per terram." The Royal Marine Forces share with the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, the East Kent Regiment (formerly the Buffs), and the Royal London Militia the privilege of marching through the city of London with colours flying, bands playing and bayonets fixed. This is due to a common original association with the London train bands.

War Services.—To describe these would be to review the wars waged by England by sea and by land for over 200 years, in every sea light, great or small, marines have taken part, and on every continent they have served in big and little wars, sometimes as part of the army, sometimes with naval contingents, sometimes alone. Throughout the Napoleonic war the marines took part in every sort of operation afloat and ashore. During the Crimean War, mortar-boat flotillas in the Baltic and Black Sea were commanded and manned by R.M.A., while comrades in the same corps served with the Royal Artillery in the trenches before Sebastopol—a marine infantry brigade occupying the heights of Balaclava. During the Indian Mutiny, marines (artillery and infantry) served with the Naval Brigade under Peel. In the China wars batteries and brigades of the marine force played a prominent part, and likewise were represented in all the Egyptian and Sudan campaigns, 1881 to 1898. In one action the R.M.A. gunners came to the relief of the Royal Horse Artillery when exhausted, and fought their guns; in another the R.M.A., out of the débris of the enemy's Krupp guns captured, built up one complete gun and fought it with effect; in the final campaign gunboats were brought up in pieces, put together and fought by a detachment of the R.M.A.

In 1899 in the Boer War the marine artillery and infantry took part with the Naval Brigade, maintaining their historic reputation, and at the battle of Enslin their losses were exceptionally severe.

Characteristics of Marine System.—The recruit first goes to the depot at Walmer, and is trained as a soldier before joining his division to complete instruction as a marine. His division is his permanent military home, from which he goes on service and to which he returns at its conclusion. Restrictions on marriage, necessary under the army system, are not necessary in the marine forces. The permanent home of the wife and family is not broken up by the marine going abroad; the wife thus can continue any local goodwill in any business her industry may secure. This fixed home enables a marine to learn a trade in the workshops of his division which supply the clothing, &c., to the corps. Marines are enlisted for 12 years, and if of good character they can re-engage to complete 2I years, entitling to pension. The periods of service abroad for marines are shorter (generally 3 years), but more constantly recurrent than for the army. The administrative, as distinct from the instructional, staff necessary for a marine division is more simple and less expensive than that of a numerical army equivalent expressed in regiments, The system of pay and accounts is also less complex. The following table shows the relative proportions of marine forces to the whole navy at different periods up to the South African War of 1899:—

Year. Navy proper. Officers and Men. Marines. Officers and Men. Grand Total. Maritime. Peace or War. Percent. Marines to Total Forces. Nature of Ships.
1805 90,000 30,000 120,000 War (Trafalgar) 25 Sailing.
1838 23,165 9,000 32,165 Peace 28 Sailing.
1858 40,219 14,919 32,165 27 Sailing with auxiliary steam.
1878 42,046 13,727 55,773 24 Steam with auxiliary sail.
1898 78,441[1] 17,099 95,540 17 Steam and mastless ships.

The above table indicates a gradual change in naval policy and practice as regards marines. It will be observed that, concurrently with the gradual disappearance of masts, sails and yards, the proportion of marines has steadily declined. Down to very recent times the marine spent more time ashore than afloat. Now the reverse is the case.

By the introduction of the Continuous Service Act 1853, the blue-jacket was placed on exactly the same footing as the marine in respect

  1. Including 22,289 of the engineer branch providing the locomotion of modern ships—just as seamen from 1805-1858 provided it for ships of the past.